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Chapter 14

  • The next morning rose mild and bright, with a promise of summer in the air.
  • The sunlight slanted joyously down Lily's street, mellowed the blistere_ouse-front, gilded the paintless railings of the door-step, and struc_rismatic glories from the panes of her darkened window.
  • When such a day coincides with the inner mood there is intoxication in it_reath; and Selden, hastening along the street through the squalor of it_orning confidences, felt himself thrilling with a youthful sense o_dventure. He had cut loose from the familiar shores of habit, and launche_imself on uncharted seas of emotion; all the old tests and measures were lef_ehind, and his course was to be shaped by new stars.
  • That course, for the moment, led merely to Miss Bart's boarding-house; but it_habby door-step had suddenly become the threshold of the untried. As h_pproached he looked up at the triple row of windows, wondering boyishly whic_ne of them was hers. It was nine o'clock, and the house, being tenanted b_orkers, already showed an awakened front to the street. He remembere_fterward having noticed that only one blind was down. He noticed too tha_here was a pot of pansies on one of the window sills, and at once conclude_hat the window must be hers: it was inevitable that he should connect he_ith the one touch of beauty in the dingy scene.
  • Nine o'clock was an early hour for a visit, but Selden had passed beyond al_uch conventional observances. He only knew that he must see Lily Bart a_nce—he had found the word he meant to say to her, and it could not wai_nother moment to be said. It was strange that it had not come to his lip_ooner—that he had let her pass from him the evening before without being abl_o speak it. But what did that matter, now that a new day had come? It was no_ word for twilight, but for the morning.
  • Selden ran eagerly up the steps and pulled the bell; and even in his state o_elf-absorption it came as a sharp surprise to him that the door should ope_o promptly. It was still more of a surprise to see, as he entered, that i_ad been opened by Gerty Farish—and that behind her, in an agitated blur,
  • several other figures ominously loomed.
  • "Lawrence!" Gerty cried in a strange voice, "how could you get here s_uickly?"—and the trembling hand she laid on him seemed instantly to clos_bout his heart.
  • He noticed the other faces, vague with fear and conjecture—he saw th_andlady's imposing bulk sway professionally toward him; but he shrank back,
  • putting up his hand, while his eyes mechanically mounted the steep blac_alnut stairs, up which he was immediately aware that his cousin was about t_ead him.
  • A voice in the background said that the doctor might be back at any minute—an_hat nothing, upstairs, was to be disturbed. Some one else exclaimed: "It wa_he greatest mercy—" then Selden felt that Gerty had taken him gently by th_and, and that they were to be suffered to go up alone.
  • In silence they mounted the three flights, and walked along the passage to _losed door. Gerty opened the door, and Selden went in after her. Though th_lind was down, the irresistible sunlight poured a tempered golden flood int_he room, and in its light Selden saw a narrow bed along the wall, and on th_ed, with motionless hands and calm unrecognizing face, the semblance of Lil_art.
  • That it was her real self, every pulse in him ardently denied. Her real sel_ad lain warm on his heart but a few hours earlier—what had he to do with thi_stranged and tranquil face which, for the first time, neither paled no_rightened at his coming?
  • Gerty, strangely tranquil too, with the conscious self-control of one who ha_inistered to much pain, stood by the bed, speaking gently, as if transmittin_ final message.
  • "The doctor found a bottle of chloral—she had been sleeping badly for a lon_ime, and she must have taken an overdose by mistake… . There is no doubt o_hat—no doubt—there will be no question—he has been very kind. I told him tha_ou and I would like to be left alone with her—to go over her things befor_ny one else comes. I know it is what she would have wished."
  • Selden was hardly conscious of what she said. He stood looking down on th_leeping face which seemed to lie like a delicate impalpable mask over th_iving lineaments he had known. He felt that the real Lily was still there,
  • close to him, yet invisible and inaccessible; and the tenuity of the barrie_etween them mocked him with a sense of helplessness. There had never bee_ore than a little impalpable barrier between them—and yet he had suffered i_o keep them apart! And now, though it seemed slighter and frailer than ever,
  • it had suddenly hardened to adamant, and he might beat his life out against i_n vain.
  • He had dropped on his knees beside the bed, but a touch from Gerty arouse_im. He stood up, and as their eyes met he was struck by the extraordinar_ight in his cousin's face.
  • "You understand what the doctor has gone for? He has promised that there shal_e no trouble—but of course the formalities must be gone through. And I aske_im to give us time to look through her things first—"
  • He nodded, and she glanced about the small bare room. "It won't take long,"
  • she concluded.
  • "No—it won't take long," he agreed.
  • She held his hand in hers a moment longer, and then, with a last look at th_ed, moved silently toward the door. On the threshold she paused to add: "Yo_ill find me downstairs if you want me."
  • Selden roused himself to detain her. "But why are you going? She would hav_ished—"
  • Gerty shook her head with a smile. "No: this is what she would have wished—"
  • and as she spoke a light broke through Selden's stony misery, and he saw dee_nto the hidden things of love.
  • The door closed on Gerty, and he stood alone with the motionless sleeper o_he bed. His impulse was to return to her side, to fall on his knees, and res_is throbbing head against the peaceful cheek on the pillow. They had neve_een at peace together, they two; and now he felt himself drawn downward int_he strange mysterious depths of her tranquillity.
  • But he remembered Gerty's warning words—he knew that, though time had cease_n this room, its feet were hastening relentlessly toward the door. Gerty ha_iven him this supreme half-hour, and he must use it as she willed.
  • He turned and looked about him, sternly compelling himself to regain hi_onsciousness of outward things. There was very little furniture in the room.
  • The shabby chest of drawers was spread with a lace cover, and set out with _ew gold-topped boxes and bottles, a rose-coloured pin-cushion, a glass tra_trewn with tortoise-shell hair-pins—he shrank from the poignant intimacy o_hese trifles, and from the blank surface of the toilet-mirror above them.
  • These were the only traces of luxury, of that clinging to the minut_bservance of personal seemliness, which showed what her other renunciation_ust have cost. There was no other token of her personality about the room,
  • unless it showed itself in the scrupulous neatness of the scant articles o_urniture: a washing-stand, two chairs, a small writing-desk, and the littl_able near the bed. On this table stood the empty bottle and glass, and fro_hese also he averted his eyes.
  • The desk was closed, but on its slanting lid lay two letters which he took up.
  • One bore the address of a bank, and as it was stamped and sealed, Selden,
  • after a moment's hesitation, laid it aside. On the other letter he read Gu_renor's name; and the flap of the envelope was still ungummed.
  • Temptation leapt on him like the stab of a knife. He staggered under it,
  • steadying himself against the desk. Why had she been writing t_renor—writing, presumably, just after their parting of the previous evening?
  • The thought unhallowed the memory of that last hour, made a mock of the wor_e had come to speak, and defiled even the reconciling silence upon which i_ell. He felt himself flung back on all the ugly uncertainties from which h_hought he had cast loose forever. After all, what did he know of her life?
  • Only as much as she had chosen to show him, and measured by the world'_stimate, how little that was! By what right—the letter in his hand seemed t_sk—by what right was it he who now passed into her confidence through th_ate which death had left unbarred? His heart cried out that it was by righ_f their last hour together, the hour when she herself had placed the key i_is hand. Yes—but what if the letter to Trenor had been written afterward?
  • He put it from him with sudden loathing, and setting his lips, addresse_imself resolutely to what remained of his task. After all, that task would b_asier to perform, now that his personal stake in it was annulled.
  • He raised the lid of the desk, and saw within it a cheque-book and a fe_ackets of bills and letters, arranged with the orderly precision whic_haracterized all her personal habits. He looked through the letters first,
  • because it was the most difficult part of the work. They proved to be few an_nimportant, but among them he found, with a strange commotion of the heart,
  • the note he had written her the day after the Brys' entertainment.
  • "When may I come to you?"—his words overwhelmed him with a realization of th_owardice which had driven him from her at the very moment of attainment.
  • Yes—he had always feared his fate, and he was too honest to disown hi_owardice now; for had not all his old doubts started to life again at th_ere sight of Trenor's name?
  • He laid the note in his card-case, folding it away carefully, as somethin_ade precious by the fact that she had held it so; then, growing once mor_ware of the lapse of time, he continued his examination of the papers.
  • To his surprise, he found that all the bills were receipted; there was not a_npaid account among them. He opened the cheque-book, and saw that, the ver_ight before, a cheque of ten thousand dollars from Mrs. Peniston's executor_ad been entered in it. The legacy, then, had been paid sooner than Gerty ha_ed him to expect. But, turning another page or two, he discovered wit_stonishment that, in spite of this recent accession of funds, the balance ha_lready declined to a few dollars. A rapid glance at the stubs of the las_heques, all of which bore the date of the previous day, showed that betwee_our or five hundred dollars of the legacy had been spent in the settlement o_ills, while the remaining thousands were comprehended in one cheque, mad_ut, at the same time, to Charles Augustus Trenor.
  • Selden laid the book aside, and sank into the chair beside the desk. He leane_is elbows on it, and hid his face in his hands. The bitter waters of lif_urged high about him, their sterile taste was on his lips. Did the cheque t_renor explain the mystery or deepen it? At first his mind refused to act—h_elt only the taint of such a transaction between a man like Trenor and a gir_ike Lily Bart. Then, gradually, his troubled vision cleared, old hints an_umours came back to him, and out of the very insinuations he had feared t_robe, he constructed an explanation of the mystery. It was true, then, tha_he had taken money from Trenor; but true also, as the contents of the littl_esk declared, that the obligation had been intolerable to her, and that a_he first opportunity she had freed herself from it, though the act left he_ace to face with bare unmitigated poverty.
  • That was all he knew—all he could hope to unravel of the story. The mute lip_n the pillow refused him more than this—unless indeed they had told him th_est in the kiss they had left upon his forehead. Yes, he could now read int_hat farewell all that his heart craved to find there; he could even draw fro_t courage not to accuse himself for having failed to reach the height of hi_pportunity.
  • He saw that all the conditions of life had conspired to keep them apart; sinc_is very detachment from the external influences which swayed her ha_ncreased his spiritual fastidiousness, and made it more difficult for him t_ive and love uncritically. But at least he HAD loved her—had been willing t_take his future on his faith in her—and if the moment had been fated to pas_rom them before they could seize it, he saw now that, for both, it had bee_aved whole out of the ruin of their lives.
  • It was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which ha_ept them from atrophy and extinction; which, in her, had reached out to hi_n every struggle against the influence of her surroundings, and in him, ha_ept alive the faith that now drew him penitent and reconciled to her side.
  • He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees;
  • and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear.